***The summary below was written by a tremendously sleep-deprived new mother, so please excuse any rambling or typographical errors.***
After twelve days of staring adoringly at our little boy, I have finally torn myself away to tell the story of his birth.
On the night of Saturday, August 29th I started having what I thought were contractions. It essentially felt like lower back pain, but I noticed that came in little waves every 12-15 minutes apart. I was so excited, thinking that at long last, this was it! I called my mother and told her to make sure she had a spot reserved on the morning flight out of Sonoma County (there are only two flights a day from Santa Rosa into LAX).
Alas, it was not to be. Although the contractions continued throughout the night, occasionally waking me up with their intensity, by Sunday morning they had dissipated. We went for a long walk that day in hopes of stimulating labor, and I would have a contraction every half hour or so. On Sunday night the same thing began happening - contractions every 10-15 minutes apart, slightly stronger than before. Again I called my mother to be sure she had a spot reserved, and again I labored all night, waking periodically to cramping sensations. However, by morning there was nothing.
By this point, I was extremely frustrated with my spurts of false labor. I was really beginning to think that I would, in fact, be pregnant forever. My husband went to work but called to tell me that he was coming home early, saying that he felt like he should be there with me. Very sweet, but I despondently told him that he shouldn't bother, that NOTHING was happening. He came home anyway, and we spent the afternoon wandering around town, running errands, eating ice cream, etc.
That evening (Monday) around 8:30 or 9pm I started having contractions again. However, these seemed different than before. Much like the earlier contractions, the pain was still mostly in my lower back, but had also crept around to my stomach. I used to have really bad menstrual cramps, and it felt very similar.
By 10pm I called my mother and told her to make sure she had a spot reserved on the morning plane, and that I'd call her if I needed her to be on it.
We went to bed - my husband passed out immediately, but it was soon clear to me that sleeping was not in the cards. The contractions continued all night, about four to six minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. I didn't wake my husband, but would occasionally grab him and squeeze really hard for comfort. He sleeps like the dead, so it didn't affect him whatsoever.
At 3am, I called my mother and told her to get on the 6:30am flight. My husband awoke at 6am and I told him I'd been in labor all night and hadn't slept - he immediately felt terrible, and said that he hadn't realized that I was really in labor when we went to sleep last night. Frankly, neither had I - I fully expected it to be another spurt of false labor, and was surprised when it appeared to be the real thing.
I wandered around the apartment doing everything that I had learned in birthing class and all my birthing books that would help labor progress and the cervix dilate - bouncing on my birthing ball, doing squats, and remaining upright and ambulatory as much as possible. Whenever a contraction would come, my husband would rub my lower back until the pain dissipated.
After a half hour or so, my husband suggested that we go to the hospital. I didn't want to - I was paranoid of going too early and not being admitted because I wasn't dilated enough. Plus, while the contractions were certainly unpleasant, they were not incredibly painful or unmanageable - I assumed that if I were really in active labor it would hurt more, so I convinced myself that I wasn't really that far along and should therefore stay at home. It was kind of a "expect nothing, hope for everything" mentality.
Around 7am we went for a walk around the neighborhood. My contractions were coming every five minutes or so, and I would stop, lean over with my hands on my knees, and breathe through them. We walked over to Starbucks because I insisted that my husband get his beloved Americano - hey, at least one of us should be coherent. The barista looked over at me, sitting at a table quietly having contractions, and asked "Um...is your wife okay?" My husband responded "Yeah - she's just in labor." The barista was like "What the hell are you doing here??" Ha!
Back at home, I tried more positions to hasten labor, and found squatting and bouncing on the birth ball to be particularly helpful. My husband continued rubbing my back while I breathed deeply through each one. Still manageable, not too painful. I began applying clary sage, an essential oil that helps intensify labor - a few drops every half-hour on my ankles and belly. I took a shower and had a bizarre bout of intense shivering when I got out - even though I had just stepped out of a steaming shower into our 80-degree apartment, I couldn't seem to get warm enough. Afterward we sat and watched episodes of "24" on DVD for awhile, until I was hit with a contraction of a new intensity. Suddenly I no longer cared how Jack Bauer was going to save the world from terrorists, so I knew it was time to go to the hospital. This was at 10am - at this point I had been in labor for 13 hours.
On our way to the hospital, we called my mother - by this point she had been in LA for several hours, and we had told her to wait at my aunt's until we told her to come to the hospital. However, even at this point I told her to wait for our word before coming - I was still afraid that I would arrive at the hospital only 1cm dilated and be sent home.
As soon as we arrived, my contractions began intensifying. They were painful, but still felt like horribly strong menstrual cramps. I just kept thinking "I can do this. I can do anything for one minute." We walked into the L&D wing and saw a friend of a friend who worked at UCLA as a labor and delivery nurse. She later told us that she thought we wouldn't be admitted because I "looked too good." I take that as a compliment.
The midwife on call was Susan, and I couldn't have been happier - she was probably my favorite one. Finally, the moment of truth - I laid down to have my progress checked, and...she announced that I was 6cm dilated and 90% effaced! HALLELUJAH! I immediately burst into tears of relief, and had my husband call my mom to come to the hospital. Meanwhile, my hep lock was put in and my first dose of antibiotics for Group B Strep were administered (I was positive for Group B Strep, which is a bacteria is usually harmless in healthy adults, but it can cause a relatively rare but very serious infection in newborns. About 1 in 4 women carry the bacteria in their vaginal or rectal area at the time of birth, where it can be transmitted to the baby during labor. Having intravenous antibiotics - at least two doses for 15 minutes each, four hours apart - during labor dramatically decreases this risk).
At this point, I was just lying there in what can best be described as a trance-like state. During my pregnancy I read just about every birthing book available, including one on Hypnobirthing. While the book was interesting, I didn't really think I would put the information into practice when the time came - I didn't practice their visualization or relaxation techniques throughout my pregnancy as recommended, and I only listened to the accompanying relaxation CD a handful of times. However, as I lay there laboring, my mind seemed to click into a hypnotic state and I felt totally at peace. I had expected contractions to be unimaginably horrible, horrific pain, like someone knifing me in the back. Instead, my contractions felt mostly like menstrual cramps from hell. Whenever I felt one coming, I would signal Max to massage me, telling him harder, higher, lower, etc. Then I would take deep breaths through it until it was gone. All the while, my eyes were closed and I had a mantra running through my head - I can do this. I can do this. I can do anything for one minute.
When my mother arrived, I aroused myself just enough to put her in charge of the rice sock - I'd brought a bag of rice from home with an extra pair of socks. She would take it down the hall and microwave it, then hold it to my lower back between contractions, as that is where the majority of the pain was. I thought I might have back labor, so the midwife checked me but found that LOOL was in the correct face down position. Still, the bag of rice was a lifesaver, especially when coupled with my husband's backrubs.
After an hour and a half of this, I got up and walked up and down the hallway. When I got back to the room, my water broke. I bounced a little on my birth ball, then laid back down in bed in the Bradley birth "sleep position." At this point, I felt like I wanted to push. I told my midwife and she checked to see how far along I was. Only an 8, so no pushing yet - in fact, I would have to "breathe down" to be sure that I didn't push. This was torturous - not because it was particularly painful, but because it was horribly difficult to deny my body something that it wanted so much - to get the baby OUT.
The breathing down lasted for 45 minutes or so, during which time the nurses and midwife told me that they'd like to have me wear the fetal monitor continuously instead of intermittently. Later I was told that this was because the baby's heart rate was dropping with each contraction, then going back up again after the contraction was over - fortunately they didn't tell me this at the time, as it would have totally freaked me out. However, in my strange trance-like state it wasn't at all upsetting to wear the fetal monitor - they strapped that sucker on and I hardly noticed it was there. Finally, the midwife announced that I was dilated to a 9, and said "but I'm going to make you 10." She reached in and with the twist of a finger, I was fully dilated and could push.
The pushing lasted for about an hour - an hour of the most physically strenuous work I have ever experienced in my life. They say labor is a marathon, and it's true. I could hardly keep up with the breathing pattern - deep breath, push til the count of ten, then repeat twice with each contraction. The nurses put an oxygen mask on me (to try to increase my and the baby's oxygen during contractions), which also didn't bother me, as at this point I was out of my mind with exhaustion and the sheer determination to get the kid OUT OF ME.
Finally, with one massive push, he was out. Later they told me that the cord was wrapped around his neck three times - wrapped loosely, fortunately. I wasn't aware of this until much later, as I just lay there repeating "I did it. I did it!" in a euphoric daze. They unwrapped him and he started crying immediately. Max announced the sex (a boy! We were right!) and cut the cord. Then they laid him on my chest, and our little family was complete. Carter was born at 2:03pm, three and a half hours after we arrived at the hospital.
More or less, that is the story of Carter's birth. I couldn't have hoped for a better one.
Now for the exciting adventures that lie ahead...